Right to work share code checks – a small business guide

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It’s a legal requirement for employers to make sure all employees have the right to work in the UK. Before hiring a new employee, you’ll need to complete a right to work check.

These right to work checks form an important part of the onboarding process when hiring new staff into any business in the UK.

Read on to find out more about right to work checks and how you can use a share code to speed them up.

What is a right to work share code?

Employers have a legal responsibility to prevent anyone working illegally by checking the immigration status of successful job applicants – this forms a right to work check.

Share codes are unique to each overseas national, so if your prospective employee already has a share code, this can help speed up the process – as the government has already checked their identity.

We’ll go over more about what a share code is (and how you can complete them as part of a share code right to work check) later in the guide.

How to check an applicant’s right to work

Right to work checks can be done in three ways:

  1. Checking the applicant’s original documents in person (suitable for all applicants)
  2. Using identity verification technology with an identity service provider (for British and Irish citizens only)
  3. A Home Office online right to work check (for non-British and non-Irish citizens only)

Below we outline how to complete each of the three types of checks.

Manual right to work checks

To complete a manual right to work check, you’ll need the prospective employee to provide original documents such as a:

  • passport
  • Home Office immigration status document
  • Applications Registration Card issued by the Home Office

You’ll then need to check that the documents are genuine by making sure that:

  • they’re in date
  • they haven’t been tampered with
  • photographs show a likeness to the prospective employee
  • dates and photographs are consistent
  • any differences between documents can be explained

The final steps include making a copy of the documents, recording the date of the check, and working out how long the check will last for.

This type of right to work check is suitable for any applicant and will need to be completed in person.

You can use the government’s right to work checklist for more details on how to complete these checks, plus a full list of the documents you can accept.

Checks using identity verification technology

For British and Irish citizens, employers can use identity verification technology (IDVT) through an identity service provider (IDSP).

This is a digital check that proves a prospective employee’s right to work. Although the check is done by a third-party provider, the liability for making sure the check is completed properly remains with the employer.

Before you pass identity documents on to an IDSP, you should make sure that you’re happy with the validity of the photograph and biographic details.

The government has a list of certified IDSPs, although you can use an alternative provider. Once the IDVT check has been completed, you’ll need to keep a copy of it for as long as the employee works for you and for two years after they leave.

This article is intended as a guide. Always speak to an immigration professional or legal expert if you’re not sure of anything to do with right to work checks.

Digital right to work checks

Another way to check a prospective employee’s right to work is online, using the Home Office employer checking service (ECS).

You won’t be able to use it for all applicants, but if they have one of the following documents this is the only way to check their status:

  • eVisa
  • Biometric Residence Card (BRC)
  • Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)
  • Frontier Worker Permit (FWP)

You can follow the steps on the government website to find out if the applicant has the right to work. As with other checks, you should make sure that you’re happy with the information provided and keep a copy of the check.

Check right to work with a share code

Employers can also use a prospective employee’s share code as part of their right to work check.

This often helps to speed up the process for employers because to generate a share code, the prospective employee will already have provided their identity documents to the government.

What is a share code?

A right to work share code is a unique nine-digit number provided by the government to overseas nationals.

It shows the kind of work they’re able to do, plus how long they’re eligible to work in the UK for.

How to get a share code for right to work

Prospective employees can generate their share code by logging into their gov.uk account and providing one of the following:

  • biometric residence card number
  • biometric residence permit number (which may also be a visa number)
  • passport or national identity card

They’ll then be given a share code, which is valid for 30 days. This can be passed on to the employer, along with their date of birth, to complete a share code check on the government website.

How long do right to work checks take?

There’s no set timeline for right to work checks, meaning it will depend on each individual employee. If the employee has all the required documents ready (or already has a share code), the checks can be completed much more quickly.

If the employee has to source the necessary documents, or you find discrepancies in what they provide that need checking, the process can take longer.

On average, right to work checks can take between one to four weeks.

What happens if you don’t comply with right to work checks?

Completing right to work checks is extremely important. If one of your employees is found to be working in the UK illegally, evidence of a right to work check can help you to avoid a civil penalty.

If it can be proven that the check wasn’t completed properly, or that one was never completed, then you could be liable for a fine of up to £60,000 for each employee found to be working illegally. You could also receive jail time for up to ten years.

Do you have any unanswered questions about right to work checks and share codes? Let us know in the comments below.

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Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling is a professional writer with over 10 years’ experience across the property, small business, and insurance sectors. A trained journalist, Conor’s previous experience includes writing for several leading online property trade publications. Conor has worked at Simply Business as a Copywriter for three years, specialising in the buy-to-let market, landlords, and small business finance.

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